UH marching band outperforms itself

Daniel Bernard Roumain is currently the artist in residence at the Mitchell center for the arts  |  Courtesy of the Cynthia Woods Mitchell center for the art

Daniel Bernard Roumain is the artist in residence at the Mitchell Center for the Arts | Courtesy of the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts

The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts presents marching bands like you’ve never seen them before with “En Masse Studies and Etudes.”

The UH Cougar Marching Band presented “En Masse,” a large-scale participatory outdoor performance, on Saturday at Discovery Green.

Unlike traditional marching band concerts, “En Masse” invites audiences to follow the band on its path and experience what it’s like to be inside a “deconstructed parade” as band members disperse into different formations around the park.

In collaboration with band director Troy Bennefield, “En Masse” is the commissioned piece by Mitchell Center artist in residence Daniel Bernard Roumain, with direction by the previous artist in residence Marc Bamuthi Joseph.

Organized into 12 different works running 20 minutes each, the marching band performed a variety of musical arrangements, including the Cougar Fight Song, powerful collaborations with Roumain on the violin and spoken word poetry by Joseph.

Throughout the four-hour performance, the marching band demonstrated consistent enthusiasm with every change of song and formation, bringing life and intrigue to the park and the community.

Just as intended, people embraced the innovative concept of “En Masse,” sharing a rare and pleasant moment with the marching band.

Lianna Esquivel, a saxophone player in the marching band and an education sophomore, said she was happy to see so many people come out for the performance.

“A lot more people are here than I expected,” Esquivel said.

Performing in close proximity to the audience, the band also encouraged children to play with their instruments.

A new and unusual experience for the marching band and audience alike, Esquivel found it brought her closer to the audience.

“It’s amazing, I feel more connected to the audience — especially if they’re right there interacting.”

“We’re making music, having fun, being ourselves and Cougars — it feels really good,” Esquivel said.

Describing “En Masse” as a “meditation through music,” choreographer Joseph was pleased that the piece turned out just as he envisioned it.

“It’s happening exactly how we wanted — a little bit of improvisation, people milling around — really using the park like a museum or a gallery; letting people wander, stare, stay, connect, depart as much as they want to and really using music as the guide to move people through,” Joseph said.

As the band changed locations around the park, performing artist Joseph recited spoken word poetry expressing sentiments of hope and American ideals.

“It’s been a tremendous week in our country’s history, from events on Capitol Hill to the obvious tragedy in Boston and to what’s happening right now in West Texas.”

“It’s a uniquely American moment and a unique moment to gather together, ‘En Masse,’ in America, and the spoken word echoes those ideas of hooding together under liberties, tresses, shelter and hope,” Joseph said.

A modern piece organized and performed with spirit, vision and a sense of togetherness, “En Masse” not only brings life to music, but music to life.

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